Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally opened on Broadway on Tuesday night. There was a star-studded crowd that included Bill Clinton, a 10-minute standing ovation, and even deposed director Julie Taymor got up to take a bow. And, thank goodness, no actors fell from the rafters. A press release from the show’s reps reports that “critics and audiences cheer[ed] the opening,” and offered a few effusive blurbs from USA Today, MTV and NY1 News. Well, first of all, they weren’t reading the reviews I saw. In The New York Times (generally the review that helps a show fly or die), Ben Brantley compared its earlier incarnation to now as an “ascent from jaw-dropping badness to mere mediocrity,” but that isn’t a rave since he likened that earlier version to “watching the Hindenburg crash and burn.” The Wall Street Journal called the book “flabby and witless” and, as for the plot, “everything that happens is utterly familiar and utterly predictable.” To sum up, the WSJ offers that “$70 million and nearly nine years of effort, all squandered on a damp squib. … Never in the history of Broadway has so much been spent to so little effect.” The other Gotham papers basically said it was better than it was when Taymor was calling the shots, but essentially that its edge (not to be confused with U2′s The Edge) had been varnished away, leaving blandness and U2 songs that aren’t the catchiest that Bono and The Edge ever came up with.
I wasn’t much of a fan of the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies, and thought them bland compared to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films or Chris Nolan’s Batman films. And still, Spider-Man was a billion-dollar franchise for Sony Pictures and is being rebooted in 3D.
So why can’t Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark live with godawful reviews we all expected and thrive with the tourist crowd? My sources tell me that the reason is the operating costs are just too stratospheric. The budget, I’m told, is already in the $80 million range, and the economics just won’t add up. It’ll last a year, maybe, but it will be hard-pressed to escape what many feel will be its inevitable place in history: Broadway’s biggest-ever debacle.